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GEORGIA RULES (article first published : 2007-10-16)

On paper, the film probably had something going for it, but with featherlight direction from that master of happily-ever-afters, Garry Marshall - he gave us the bright and fluffy Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries - Georgia Rules is a big disappointment.

More than that, it emerges as an awkward, uncomfortable mess of a movie that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy or drama.

A pity, really, because Marshall has assembled a pretty good cast, headed by Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman, Cary Elwes and Dermot Mulroney. The film hit a wobble early when rebel-rousing Lohan received a warning letter from studio bigwigs for her lack of professionalism.

According to the Internet Movie Data Base, the letter was later released to the media and directly noted Lohan's "discourteous, irresponsible and unprofessional" conduct and went on to say her actions were those of a "spoiled child" which "has endangered the quality of this picture”: The 20-year-old star was apparently threatened with legal action if she continued to delay production.

This controversy notwithstanding, Lohan still manages to give an okay performance here, but neither she nor her respected co-stars can do much with a limp, disjointed script and misjudged direction, which make light of such topics as child rape, alcoholism, grief and dysfunctional families.

The strange meshing of serious issues and breezy humour never gels as we follow the story of teen rebel Rachel (Lohan), who is forced by her troubled, alcoholic mom, Lilly (Huffman), to spend her summer before college with her grandmother in a hicktown in Idaho. All a little odd, really, because Lilly and Georgia don’t get along and have barely spoken in 13 years, so why Lilly thinks her bitchy daughter will learn from the experience is anyone’s guess.

But moving on … Rachel and the old girl clash at first, but slowly warm to one another as Rachel gets a job as receptionist for the local vet (McDermott), befriends a hunky Mormon youth (Garrett Hedlund) that she tries to seduce, and, in a weak and silly side plot, clashes with local girls who see her as a neighbourhood threat.

Then Rachel drops a bombshell – she claims her stepfather (Elwes) raped her from the age of 12 to 14 and the rest of the movie is spent with her family – and the audience - guessing whether she is making it up or telling the truth.

As these sad and lonely people try to come to grips with this chaos, aided by Marshall’s cheery direction, so things get more than a little uncomfortable, frankly - leading to a misjudged and not too credible ending. Rating 4/10 – Billy Suter




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